T4C and DHGI—An ambitious, new undertaking that will affect the lives of Black populations worldwide

Meharry President James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., M.D. announces the new Together for CHANGE (T4C) initiative of the newly founded Diaspora Human Genomics Institute (DHGI) while Board Chair Nelson Adams III, M.D. ’78 looks on at a special event held yesterday at The Cal Turner Family Center for Student Education.

 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023 was a historic day for Meharry Medical College with the launch of the Together for CHANGE (T4C) initiative, the inaugural project of the Diaspora Human Genomics Institute (DHGI), a newly founded nonprofit established and led by a team from Meharry Medical College.

 

The initiative, in partnership with leading pharmaceutical companies at the highest level of drug development—Regeneron, AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk and Roche—is a comprehensive 10-year initiative that will lead to more equitable medical research and better treatments for Black populations worldwide by creating the first genomics database of people of African ancestry—the world’s largest—composed of genomic and phenotypic data from up to 500,000 volunteer participants. It will also invest in and promote the education and employment of more people of African ancestry in genomics and related STEM fields. The project was driven by the vision and hard work of Meharry President, Dr. James E.K. Hildreth and Senior Vice President of Research and Innovation, Dr. Anil Shanker

 

Anil Shanker, Ph.D., and senior vice president of research and innovation waits to take the stage to tell attendees of the first-of-its-kind venture with four leading pharmaceutical companies to develop a genomic database of people of African ancestry.

 

“Our role as a leader in the future of genomics will have a profound and lasting impact on the research of specific diseases that disproportionately affect people of African ancestry,” Dr. Hildreth said in a message to campus shortly before the announcement. “Not only will we make new discoveries; we will create treatments that address the health needs of our most vulnerable.”

 

Evoking the memory of Henrietta Lacks and the men of the Tuskegee experiments, Dr. Hildreth told those present at the announcement that the work of the DHGI and the T4C initiative will respect the trust of the people for whom Meharry has been the health care voice for nearly 150 years. Participation will be solicited, not assumed or taken—data collected will be on a voluntary basis. The information will then be stripped of all identifiers and managed with utmost security, overseen by an Ethics Committee of community leaders.

 

“Starting today and with this momentous partnership, we begin to leave the past in the past where it belongs,” Dr. Hildreth told those gathered. “Because Together for CHANGE will ensure that—at last—our future, and the future of generations to come, will be different from those who came before.